Control arms are an important component in your car's steering and suspension system. When they have problems, then will also have problems with steering and handling. In most cars, they are the main suspension component and they keep your wheels aligned while you're going over bumps or turning around corners. Besides being comprised of a ball joint connected to the wheel assembly, the arm also has bushings which keep movement at a minimum. When these bushings wear, there will be some very noticeable problems.
One of the first things you will begin to notice is that your bushings will make a lot of noise as they dry out and wear. At first, you might only hear squeaking, but as the bushings fall apart, you could also hear rattling or clunking, especially when you apply the brake. This is because the lack of cushioning allows the arm to move enough to cause the wheels to be out of alignment as well as putting extra stress on other suspension components.
In the beginning, you might not notice any kind of vibration, but as the problem gets worse, you will begin to feel a shimmy or pop while braking, after you hit a bump or turn a corner. You could also feel a wobbling sensation in the steering wheel, especially at high speeds. In some cases, you may see the steering wheel actually move right before your eyes. Steering will also become less responsive or harder with excessive play in the wheel.
Often, the earliest signs of a control arm problem is that your tires either wear down in a strange way or wear down quickly. You may get "feathering" where the tires wear unevenly with the outer treads wearing faster than the inner ones. This is because the bad bushings cause a change in the caster and camber alignment which, in turn, affects the toe-in alignment which is the cause of the feathering. Bad bushings can also cause severe wear on the inner edge of the tire.
Generally, mildly worn control arm bushings are not an immediate safety concern and most people can continue to drive until they can find the time to get them replaced. However, if you wait too long, and the bushings wear out completely, it puts more stress and movement on things like the ball joints and you can risk possible ball joint failure which can be life threatening. Too much play in the steering wheel is also hazardous as it reduces responsiveness and control. In some cars, repairing the bushings requires replacing the entire control arm assembly, so it's important you get a mechanic from a place like Cambridge Collision & Auto Center to do the job.Share